The first time you come to China it may seem like a shoppers paradise: Everything seems 20-35% cheaper than back home. For most of the short term tourists or visitors that’s more than enough. But the matter of fact is that everything that’s made and sold in China is about 80% cheaper. Personally I’ve met so many tourists who buy the crappy souvenirs and knock offs, that have a value of 15-20rmb max, and try to tell me what a good deal they got for 60usd, since in the States the “same” things cost 120usd. The last straw was probably a report on CCTV9 where a German expat stated that 48rmb for a bowl of noodles is not a lot since a bottle of beer costs 50rmb in Germany.
As most of you know “Everything is negotiable in China”, but not too many people know or seem to care to what extent. That’s why I’ve decided to come up with a 10 Bargaining Tricks list. This list is based on my personal experience and advice from a bunch of people known to get stuff dirt cheap, so here goes:
1. Leave your emotions and guilt at home. I’ve read many blogs where the authors claim that bargaining is a friendly experience. Well it’s not. It will only be friendly if you pay far out of your ass for it. Remember, you’re going shopping and not to make friends. You don’t have to consider the feelings of the salespeople. They might pretend to be angry or sad, but it’s just part of the act. They might curse once they take your money but that’s only because you paid a Chinese (or close to Chinese) price for your stuff.
2. Don’t dress up or dress down. Once again try to be yourself, don’t pretend to be overly wealthy or too poor either. If you go shopping in your best clothes and jewelry, the sellers starting price will ridiculously high and it might take longer to bring it down to normal. If you look broke and dirty, the salespeople might assume that you are not going to buy anything and just give you a “whatever” price and not even bargain. Chinese people still look down on people that look poor, even if they make only 1000-2000rmb themselves.
3. Find out a rough price before going shopping. Here’s one thing that drives me crazy in China, it’s that some salespeople just come up with just any price. They don’t follow any formulas that are usually used in the western countries (like double the real price). Some of my friends try to ask for their lowest price and then divide it by two to get a real price. Unfortunately even that formula doesn’t always work (especially when shopping for souvenirs). When my friend came for a visit from the States, he wanted to buy some touristy crap, so we got some “antique painting on scrolls” which we were quoted 800rmb for, then got a lowest price of 280rmb, in the end we bought them for 30rmb.
So the easiest solution is either to check online (taobao.com), ask your friends or if your Chinese is good enough listen to the locals bargaining.
4. Try not to look like you just got off the plane. In Beijing I’ve noticed three main groups of foreigners: the expats, students/teachers and the tourists. Tourists are usually the easiest to identify and most of the salespeople see tourists from a mile away. I’m not saying it’s bad being a tourist, but tourists get the most ridiculous prices when shopping. So if you are one, try to leave your mountain backpack, camera, map of the city or fanny-pack at your hotel room and for gods sake don’t wear a “I climbed the Great Wall of China” T-shirt while shopping.
5. Keep a straight face. Like I mentioned before you’re bargaining not socializing! Don’t smile, keep a straight face, don’t try to befriend the seller. Flirting or telling stories about your travel experiences, home country or favorite movie will not get you a better price.
6. Don’t get sucked into the first store you stumble upon. Chances are there are at least a couple of other stores selling exactly the same product in the same building/market. Walk around, take your time, don’t seem too eager to buy anything. If you don’t know the rough price of the thing you want to buy, ask around for prices at different stalls/shops.
7. Find more remote shops that don’t get as much traffic. The general rule is that salespeople close to the entrances, escalators/elevators and on the first floor pay higher rent. So their prices are much higher than their competition. Go to the upper floors of the markets, find a stall somewhere in the corner or a shop at the very end of the shopping district. You can really low-ball the price over there.
8. Find a “flaw” in the product you’re about to buy. If you’ve found something you like, don’t look too excited. Pretend that the style, shape, color or some small detail turns you off. Also make sure they don’t have anything you pretend to want. Keep on saying how much you don’t like a certain aspect of the product where as otherwise it’d be perfect. Take up as much of the salesperson’s time as you can, so they don’t have the patience to bargain anymore… Then play the walking away game
9. The walking away game. If everything else fails and you still think the price is too high, try walking away. You’ll hear the salespeople screaming prices which get lower and lower as you get farther and farther. If you hear a acceptable price keep on walking, it might get even lower. You got nothing to lose, you can always come back later and get the stuff for the price of their last offer, before you walked away completely.
10. Shop early in the morning or before closing time. Some Chinese are superstitious and believe that it’s a good sign if the first customer buys something, plus they haven’t had any business so they will give you a much lower price than during peak hours. Same thing goes for shopping close to closing time, the sellers will be too exhausted and will generally take whatever they can get without heavy bargaining as long as they make some profit.
So yeah that’s about it. If you have any other tips and trick please drop me a line. I’d love to see some new ways of Surviving Bargaining in China. Also, please vote on this and the rest of my guides, it really is appreciated mate!